Fluoride for all
Fluoride can help prevent dental cavities. This is the main point of a new publication from the University of Copenhagen, which presents the latest information about fluoride, its effects, and opportunities for using it in preventing illness. Fluoride deficiency is especially prevalent in developing countries, but the problem also appears in Eastern Europe, where dental diseases are a major issue in the field of public health.
We in Denmark focus heavily on health – including dental health. In fact, Danish children have fewer cavities than children in most other European countries. This is largely due to our use of toothpaste containing fluoride, and to our emphasis on preventative dental care, explains Poul Erik Petersen, Professor of Community Dentistry at the University of Copenhagen, where he works with global public health. Following many years of research, he and a number of other international experts have now completed a study that presents a status report on existing knowledge about fluoride and its beneficial effect on dental health.
“Fluoride helps prevent caries (dental cavities) and is effective in three main areas: firstly, it helps reconstitute enamel on the teeth; secondly, it hinders the capacity of bacteria to convert sugar from food; and thirdly, it helps reinforce the teeth in general. It is therefore essential to ensure that everyone has access to a suitable volume of fluoride. Unfortunately, not all countries consider the use of fluoride to be as self-evident as we do in Denmark,” he comments.
One tube of toothpaste is enough to feed a family in Burkina Faso
While Poul Erik Petersen recommends that everyone should have access to an optimal level of fluoride, it is important to remember that conditions differ around the world. In some places, individual citizens can decide for themselves whether to use fluoride toothpaste, for example, where in others it is necessary for the public authorities to step in and regulate the level of fluoride in the environment. This applies in particular in countries that do not have the same standard of living or place the same emphasis on health as we do in Denmark. Here, fluoride must be supplied at a level beneficial to health by adding it directly to drinking water, salt or milk.
“Fluoride can be administered in a several ways, depending on the prevalent conditions. The vast majority of people in Denmark use fluoride toothpaste today, and in most cases this is enough to make sure that they constantly have an optimal level of fluoride in their mouths. Oral hygiene does vary, however, among both children and adults depending on their social and family backgrounds, so there is a social imbalance in the use of fluoride toothpaste. The situation is markedly different in a developing country such as Burkina Faso, for example. Here, a tube of fluoride toothpaste costs the same as feeding a whole family for a day, so other solutions have to be implemented,” relates Poul Erik Petersen.
“Instead of making fluoride intake a matter for individuals to decide for themselves through the use of toothpaste, for instance, it can be assimilated into everyday life by adding it directly to drinking water, milk or salt. In a country such as Burkina Faso, it is unrealistic to expect the general population to use toothpaste, so in this case it would make sense to fluoridise the salt,” he continues.
Can’t kiss without teeth
Preventing caries is important to keeping your teeth, but there is more to oral hygiene than this. Poor oral hygiene can have negative consequences on both social interaction and other aspects of life. For example, losing your teeth can make it difficult to chew certain foods, which often leads to the adoption of an unhealthy diet. This, in turn, can result in a variety of chronic illnesses attributable to lack of nutrition, as Poul Erik Petersen emphasises:
“The idea that a healthy set of teeth is a purely cosmetic issue is sadly misplaced. In addition to the health-related consequences, there is also a social aspect to consider. Having a healthy mouth and teeth improves quality of life, because the mouth plays a key role in our communication with other people, not only from the perspective of expressing ourselves clearly, but also because we often watch the other person’s mouth and facial expressions when we talk to each other. Moreover, you can actually lose the ability to kiss if you lose your natural teeth,” he adds.
The problem of caries cannot be prevented solely by using fluoride. The source of caries is closely linked to our high consumption of sugar. “That’s why it’s a societal task to ensure the population eats a healthy diet, and to limit sugar consumption so as to reduce the risk of developing cavities,” concludes Poul Erik Petersen.
Professor of Community Dentistry Poul Erik Petersen, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org,
Telephone: +45 29 60 14 86
Professor of Community Dentistry Poul Erik Petersen
Telephone: +45 29 60 14 86